By Lauren Phelps
Ever since I can remember, I have had two goals in my life: join the Peace Corps and participate in the reality TV show “Big Brother”. I remember thinking that maybe these goals were too big for me, pipe dreams that would never be attained. I have since let go of my aspirations to become a reality TV star, but I was, however, able to complete my goal of joining the Peace Corps.
In June of 2018 I found out that my Peace Corps application was accepted and I would be moving to Ecuador in January of 2019. I was beyond excited and so ready for my new life in a new country. Little did I know just how much I would learn in my experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ecuador. Here are 5 things I learned that pretty much changed my life.
Adaptability is Key
Being adaptable to new environments is key to a successful life abroad. As a Peace Corps volunteer, I lived with a host family and was quickly immersed in the beautiful Ecuadorian culture. My host family couldn’t be nicer and more welcoming. However, day to day life was different. Sometimes the water wouldn’t turn on or sometimes the weather would be so cold that my clothes wouldn’t dry no matter how long they hung out to dry. But these things are part of adapting to the new lifestyle that I would have in Ecuador, and I just had to embrace it all!
Live Life More Slowly
The second I stepped foot in Ecuador, I noticed that time warped into a new, slower way of doing things. At first, this might annoy you as it did me. But after months and months of living as the Ecuadorians did, I learned to live life more slowly and enjoy each passing moment. Something as simple as the speed at which I walked changed and I was no longer in a rush to get everywhere. La hora ecuatoriana started to creep its way into my habits, and I think it actually had a positive impact on my mental health. I learned that it is okay to take your time and enjoy life as it comes.
Learning a Language is Harder Than it Looks
I studied Spanish in high school and continued to study it in college where I majored in Spanish. And yet, when traveling to a Spanish speaking country, I still feel like a 4 year old kid trying to communicate with locals. Learning a new language means putting yourself out there and not being afraid of messing up. This lesson was, and still is, hard for me. Even as my Spanish improved, I was constantly humbled by my interaction in the language. However, I will be the first to admit that mostly everyone in Ecuador was kind and willing to help me out. I cannot say the same thing about other countries I have visited!
Travel Makes You Stronger
It wasn’t until I lived in another country that I realized just how capable and strong I am. Traveling will make you an instantly better problem solver and communicator. When you commit to being in the Peace Corps or to living in a foreign country for a long period of time, you learn what being alone is. And being alone is not necessarily a bad thing, in fact, sometimes it is a great thing! But you have to be okay with being by yourself, figuring out the solutions to day to day problems on your own, and learn to become a stronger person in the process.
Live, Love and Bailar
The fifth and most important thing I learned is to live each day to the fullest. I don’t know what it is about Ecuadorian culture, but the people that I met were living, loving and dancing their way through all of life's struggles. I found the attitudes of so many Ecuadorians to be extremely inspirational. To this day, I want to be around people who have that same mindset, of enjoying friends and family and living life to the fullest to the best of your ability. So despite what problems you have or how the situation in the world might be affecting you, you have to live, love and bailar.